Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Supremely powerful and incredibly lithe, the dancers of Pilobolus exude strength even in moments or depictions of weakness.
Ditto the renowned troupe's performance for DanceCleveland Saturday night at Playhouse Square. No matter that some pieces were more potent conceptually than others. Pilobolus still wowed with every step.
The company was at its best when deployed in the realization of a clear and robust concept. So athletic are its members, more › complex or overly abstract notions tended not to serve them effectively.
Hence the sheer, all-around delight in "All is Not Lost," a 2011 collaboration with director Trish Sie and rock band OK Go. The night's shortest offering, the piece also packed the most charm, and made its point most directly.
Video from a camera on the floor looking up through a clear platform fed to a large screen, affording a vertical view of events transpiring on a horizontal surface. Sounds dry, perhaps, but in fact, it was entrancing.
Dancers sliding or crawling on the platform appeared to be falling, while various combinations of feet and bodies produced the hypnotic effects of a kaleidoscope or lava lamp. One truly could have watched for hours.
Same goes for "On the Nature of Things," the program opener. An ode to human nature and the human form, the 2014 piece stood as an example of all that's best about Pilobolus.
Clad in practically nothing, three dancers with spectacular bodies slowly contorted on a small pedestal, weaving limbs, lifting torsos, and generally defying gravity with fluid, statuesque grace. At the same time, the woman and two men also seemed to play out a kind of love triangle, forming and breaking bonds with every sequence.
Created in 1991, "Sweet Purgatory" was by far the night's oldest offering. Still, it contained dancing of great vitality and freshness, and bathed the company in a welcome, more traditional light.
Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, a work of peerless angst and intensity, served as the soundtrack to balletic partnering and dynamic ensemble sequences far more strenuous than Pilobolus let on. Somber lighting and costumes rounded out an absorbing scene no doubt true to the grim reflections that inspired the music.
Pilobolus was less compelling Saturday treading ground occupied by conventional modern dance companies, presenting pieces steeped in emotion and vague, high-art concepts. Still, the troupe's sheer physicality made even those types of performances joys to behold.
"The Inconsistent Pedaler," created with film artists Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, was a zany romp involving an elderly man and friends celebrating his 99th birthday. Dormant by themselves, the characters - a girl, a couple, the man, and a mischievous figure in a diaper - sprang to life at the pedaling of a stationary bike at center stage.
Much of the scene was chaos, a festival of slapstick comedy entailing little true dancing and few Pilobolus-style feats. Eventually, though, as various participants took turns riding, the party coalesced into a sweet, even touching ode to our impermanence.
Dance companies rarely present works in progress. But that's exactly what Pilobolus did Saturday, to its credit. "Untitled" may still need work, and a name, but inviting the audience to share in the creative process was genius.
The holdup was the narrative. Exactly what was going on as five dancers in dingy clothing hurdled across the stage, through and around a swinging door on wheels, never became clear.
Heartbreak and anguish abounded. Neither, though, was as plentiful as the awe viewers felt from simply witnessing such incredible performers in action.
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus
Friday, January 30th, 2015 12:00 PM
Pilobolus, a determinedly modern dance company known for scrambling dance with other disciplines, will perform four works at the State Theatre in Playhouse Square on Jan. 31. One of those, "The Inconsistent Pedaler," is a collaboration between Pilobolus and Israeli writer Etgar Keret and his wife, actress and filmmaker Shira Geffen.
Telling a story through dance isn't easy. But when the blend of narrative, incident and movement works, something unique emerges, more › suggested Keret, who writes fiction, novels and graphic novels.
In a telephone interview and email from Tel Aviv, where the couple lives, Keret said the project got off to a rocky start but wound up smooth. "I was unhappy because I thought I was not really able to express myself or use my advantages as a storyteller," he said, "so after working with the group for about two weeks, I told them that I don't think that me and my wife could give them the best that we could, and we changed direction and me and my wife spent a few days together with the Pilobolus choreographer and the art director and came up with something that was like a story but it was loose enough for dance. It was more like kind of a changing situation than a plot-driven story."
With music by Perez Prado (a Cuban bandleader and mambo king of the 1950s) and the rocker Tom Petty, "The Inconsistent Pedaler" stars a stationary bicycle, the woman who rides it, and her family, which loses energy whenever she stops pedaling the bike.
Ultimately, Keret said, he and Shira let the dance tell the story. "The process of making dance could actually determine the kind of story, how it would end, how the characters would develop," he said. The trick was to find a way to reconcile "the tension between story and dance" so both "would be equal."
Keret enjoys bridging creative disciplines.
"I'm a storyteller and I'm always attracted to new mediums through which I can tell a tale," he said. "Dancing has an inner logic that is closer to poetry than to prose and the tension between the plot's perspective of a future and the dance's insistence on staying in the moment calls for a very delicate equilibrium between the two. It was fascinating to keep looking for it, it felt a bit like tightrope walking."
Neither Keret nor his wife will attend the Pilobolus performance at the State Theatre, but Keret will be in the Cleveland area on March 25 for "An evening with Etgar Keret." That 7 p.m. event, a Herbert and Marianna Luxenberg Siegal College Israel Lecture free and open to the public, will be held at the Siegal facility at 26500 Shaker Blvd. in Beachwood.
WHAT: Pilobolus, featuring an Etgar Keret segment; presented by DANCE Cleveland
WHEN: 8 p.m. Jan. 31
WHERE: State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
TICKETS & INFO: $20 and up. Call 216-241-6000 or visit dancecleveland.org
CARLO WOLFF, The Cleveland Jewish News
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus
Thursday, January 29th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Never mind that he directs Pilobolus, one of the most successful modern-dance companies in history. Robby Barnett simply doesn't care for dance all that much.
So little do he and his troupe, en route to Playhouse Square Saturday on the DanceCleveland series, have in common with others, so unusual are their methods and output, Barnett doesn't even follow dance at large.
"For me," he said from his home in more › rural Vermont, "it's only about the psychological engagement. The medium itself is just something I fell into."
There's a method to what may sound like madness in that statement, and a fortuitous use of the phrase "fell into." For what has set Pilobolus apart since 1971 is the way it creates new work: without choreographers (usually), through play and the exploration of physical ideas.
Where most troupes fulfill or re-create the vision of a single artist, Pilobolus operates collaboratively, sometimes partnering with figures from other disciplines. What's more, the dances it produces tend to rest not on messages or stories but on fresh means of interacting and athletic feats.
"We're simply interested in the ways people touch each other," Barnett explained. "Our work is a manifestation of a social process. It comes from being in each other's arms."
Just how well this works will soon be abundantly clear. When the company, founded by Dartmouth College gymnasts, arrives here Saturday, it will do so bearing a program reflecting all sides of its distinctive personality.
"On the Nature of Things," for instance, is pure Pilobolus, a flesh-and-blood paean to ancient sculpture, performed on a narrow column. Similarly, "Sweet Purgatory" deploys dancers in both active and passive roles to evoke a feeling of suspended time and space.
What comes of Pilobolus welcoming others into the mix will be evident in two works, "All Is Not Lost" and "The Inconsistent Pedaler." The former, a video collaboration with rock band OK Go, imagines dance as viewed through a kaleidoscope, while the latter, created with author Etgar Keret and filmmaker Shira Geffen, strives for that rarest of dance virtues: humor.
Rarer still is the opportunity presented by the fifth and final piece on the program, "Untitled 2015," a work in progress slated for premiere later this year. Through that, patrons may witness the troupe's creative process in action.
Whether or not the piece endures remains to be seen. One thing's for certain, however, even at this early stage: It already has at least a few fans.
Barnett may not bother keeping up with the Joneses, but he's avidly interested in what his own dancers think. In fact, they're his most reliable critics. When they're satisfied with a new piece, he knows it's ready for the world.
"By working as a group, we're our own audience," Barnett said. "Because we have to like what we're doing, we know we're always starting with things that are fundamentally interesting."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus
Friday, January 23rd, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Two big steps by DanceCleveland have brought Northeast Ohio close to being a national wellspring for the art.
The recipient of some $210,000 in grants from two major foundations, the presenter is now actively pushing Northeast Ohio as a place to establish a national center for choreography.
Should the idea come to fruition, possibly as early as next year, the facility for developing new dance would be more › only the second of its kind in the country, after the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Among funders, said Pamela Young, executive director of DanceCleveland, "There's a real focus to be more involved in the creative process and support dance in the creative sense. We think there's a real need and appetite for this in the national ecosystem."
Whether she's right, and how far that appetite extends, will soon be clear.
Never one to wait around, DanceCleveland already has put the money it received – approximately $140,000 from the Knight Foundation and $70,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation – to good use by hiring Beachwood consultant Janus Small to conduct a feasibility study. The study, conducted in partnership with FSU faculty member Jennifer Calienes, is slated to be finished this summer.
"There's a wide variety of conclusions we could reach, anywhere from [recommending] our ideal solution to this not making sense for Northeast Ohio," Small said.
In addition, as part of the study, three or possibly four choreographers will visit the region and employ the sorts of resources a dedicated center would provide to create new works. The first, Camille A. Brown, already has gotten started.
That's not all. The study also builds on a solid foundation of feedback generated in the fall of 2013, when DanceCleveland brought a panel of national dance leaders, academics and choreographers to the city to formally consider the idea.
"We had some good conversations, and there was some strong interest," noted Young. "We had some really impressive people here, and they couldn't get over the possibilities."
"We think there's a real need and appetite for this in the national ecosystem."
Young, of course, and her staff, were the first ones to spot those possibilities. Regular presenters of world premieres, they hear about and witness firsthand the pangs of labor that often accompany the development of new dance.
Beyond that, they also connected the dots, detecting the potential in the region's many colleges, universities, theaters and studios. While the feasibility study is looking far and wide, all the way from Oberlin to Youngstown, one venue in particular, the School of Dance, Theatre and Arts Administration at the University of Akron, struck Young early on as a strong candidate.
Beyond initial ideas, she explained, choreographers need three things: research facilities, a studio and time in a theater. And yet most dance-makers rarely have access to all three, let alone in one location, as they could at Akron.
"We began to realize we have all three kinds of things here," Young said. "We began to wonder if we couldn't put together a place for dance to be made."
Even at this early point in her study, Small said she has "every reason to believe" the center will materialize in some form. Should that prediction come true, Young added, both the dance communities of Northeast Ohio and the nation at large will benefit greatly.
For Cleveland, she said, the facility would serve as another feather in the city's cultural cap, a second major boost alongside this week's International Association of Blacks in Dance conference. On the national level, meanwhile, the center would stand as a bold solution to one of the dance world's chronic problems.
"If it strengthens Northeast Ohio dance, it strengthens dance for everybody," Young explained. "It has the potential to be a catapulting opportunity, to make Northeast Ohio a major focal point in the national dance scene. The stars are aligning to make a huge impact."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 12:00 PM
The gravity-defying dance troupe Pilobolus, known for its breathtaking shape-shifting using the human body as the medium, will give a single Cleveland performance at the end of the month at the State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.
The five-dance program will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 31, including On the Nature of Things, inspired by ancient sculptures and the classical baroque. It's performed by dancers balanced on a two-foot wide column rising above more › the stage, set to music by Michelle DiBucci and Ed Bilous. The Washington Post described the dancers as having both impressive musculature and a "magical floating quality" in this work.
Also on the bill is All Is Not Lost, created by Grammy award-winning OK Go, Pilobolus and Trish Sie, as the live companion to Pilobolus' video collaboration with OK Go. The company will share its dramatic flair and quirky humor in the The Inconsistent Peddler, with music by Perez Prado and Tom Petty. The work was created by four of Pilobolus' artistic leaders in collaboration with fiction writer Etgar Keret and filmmaker Shire Geffen.
In Sweet Purgatory, set to lush music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the dancers will appear suspended in time and space. Finally, Cleveland audiences will be the first to see a preview of an unnamed new 2015 Pilobolus work.
Tickets start at $20. Call 216-241-6000 or see www.dancecleveland.org.
Pilobolus, named after a barnyard fungus, was founded in 1971 by a group of Dartmouth College gymnastic students. The inventive, athletic troupe has been seen on commercials, music videos and in appearances on the Academy Awards, Oprah Winfrey's show, Conan O'Brien and NFL Network.
Akron Beacon Journal, Kerry Clawson
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus